The Green Bay Packers will report for training camp in one week, and the feud between Mark Murphy and Aaron Rodgers seems to have no end in sight. Both sides have navigated these troubled waters carefully and made a concerted effort to remain favorable in the public eye. But if Aaron Rodgers truly wants to get his way, he may need to let go of that strategy.
The way this saga has unfolded, it feels reasonable to assume there may be no real “winner” when all is said and done. The entire dispute has been dissected and scrutinized on national television for months now, and both sides appear to be holding their ground.
Right now, Murphy and Company can’t let their franchise quarterback go without alienating their fanbase and Rodgers can’t jump ship without looking like he betrayed the city that has loved and supported him for 16 seasons.
But feelings fade, and time heals all wounds. Which is exactly why it is time for Rodgers to now embrace the role he has so deliberately avoided to this point. To get what he wants, Rodgers must be okay with people thinking he is the bad guy.
The concept is simple: Lose the PR battle, to win the war. If Rodgers becomes more deliberate in stating his desire to leave, and removes the speculation from the equation, a large portion of the fanbase will undoubtedly lash out against him. It would be a perfectly rational and predictable response.
It would also give Murphy and Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst all the ammunition they need to turn around and trade Rodgers, ensuring they get something in return for their quarterback who clearly has no intention of playing another down for them. And in this scenario, they could do so without fear of pushback from the fans, who will blame Rodgers for the divorce, believing there was nothing more that could be done.
It’s really that simple. But simple doesn’t always mean easy. From Rodgers’ point of view, it would surely sting, but he can find comfort in the fact that others before him have taken the same path.
In fact, there’s plenty of historical evidence to suggest that embracing the villain role would work out in his favor. Take Khalil Mack for instance. Despite being the Raiders’ cornerstone player, he went to great lengths to force his way out of Oakland and 30 sacks, three Pro Bowls and one first-team All-Pro selection later, he likely has no regrets.
The same could be said for Trent Williams, Jamal Adams and Jalen Ramsey. They all realized that the NFL, at its core, is still a business and treated it as such by removing emotion from the equation.
Don’t forget that both John Elway and Eli Manning were willing to go down that road in order to play for the team they wanted, or avoid one they didn’t want, and it helped make them wildly successful.
There was no bigger villain in the NBA than LeBron James when he left Cleveland the first time. Yet 11 seasons later, he is still the face of the league.
Bill Belichick, the co-architect of the Patriots dynasty, quit on the New York Jets after one day, and while some in Gang Green Nation may still hold his antics against him, Belichick’s six Super Bowl rings likely help him cope with the situation.
Nick Saban left a trail of broken hearts after abruptly leaving Michigan State, LSU and the Miami Dolphins before settling in Tuscaloosa. He sleeps just fine on his crimson-colored pillow these days.
There was even a time when Reggie Jackson decided he’d had enough of the Oakland Athletics. He only went on to become “Mr. October” with the New York Yankees.
The point is, it can be done. Words will be said, headlines will be printed and feelings will be hurt. But, again, feelings fade. Even feelings of betrayal and resentment. And they will have little to no effect on Rodgers’ legacy. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, albeit under different circumstances, both saw their legacies reach new heights after leaving their original teams.
But in order to do so, every one of the players and coaches mentioned — with the exception of Manning — had to detach themselves from the situation emotionally, let go of the fear of disappointing fans and fully accept the fact that they may not walk away smelling like roses.
While it’s true that nice guys don’t always finish last, they don’t always finish first either. So if Rodgers is serious about washing his hands of Green Bay and the Packers, the blueprint to do so is right in front of him: He must embrace the villainous role the organization is trying to cast him as and give Murphy and Gutekunst the out they need.
If he can stomach it, he may just buy himself the fresh start he’s been longing for all offseason.
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